The African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia are impressive. The sort of investment in infrastructure alone leaves one agape – the main building itself is one of the tallest skyscrapers in all of Addis. Yet the financial force behind these investments is yet another testimony to the reliance on foreign donors that is endemic to the continent. Much of the funds for the more modern buildings and resources did not come from member states rather it is countries like China, and through co-operations with EU states that have supplied these funds.
For too long the bureaucratic processes at the AU have been undermined by the political aspects of dealing with situations deemed as crisis. Because of the silence of the behind the scenes negotiations that are admittedly slow, we are prone to accusing the AU of not intervening in a timely fashion in security crisis situations such as the conflicts in Mali, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have to admit that even I have fallen prey to the perception that the AU not only drags its feet in responding to such situations but indeed does not actually act until a western nation or the United Nation first intervenes.
But this is not the case; indeed in almost all of the current conflict situations, the AU had already initiated peace negotiations and had begun considering what measures it can undertake to stem the devastation being experienced by the peoples of these nations. Unfortunately, while the people are dying the African leaders are busy politicking and the more decisive western nations step in.
The problem remains the same when it comes to funding the AU and its member states. The immediate former chairperson of the AU commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma intimated in her recent address to the general assembly that “African states are rich but African people are poor.”
This is true – we are a continent of vast resources and riches, capable of not only providing more than adequately for our people but also capable of funding our own activities and initiatives. Yet African nations routinely find themselves facing west when looking for funds from “what we euphemistically call partnerships.”
Even as we grapple, 50 years on, with what we define as the sovereignty of African states, it is no small irony that we are not financially sovereign despite having so much natural wealth and indeed no shortage of African billionaires. It is a challenge to our sensibilities that not just the governments seem to be unable to sustain themselves but the civil society as well.
Donald Deya, C.E.O of Pan African Lawyers Union put it most succinctly. “The hypocrisy is comical; the African governments accuse the civil society of having 60% foreign donor funding while having 60% of their governments budgets coming from foreign funds.”
As we marked the first 50 years of the African Union, we acknowledged that certain aspects of the original ideals behind the formation of the African Union have indeed been met. 50 years ago, we wanted to end colonialism on the continent and 50 years later we have achieved that.
Still, the fact that even now we as a continent, in our different capacities as government and civilians are still turning for financial support to the west, is a most dampening truth. Why is it, that we still are unable to sustainably fund our own activities in our various sectors?
One suggestion put forth by members of the civil society in a discussion forum on the shrinking space for civil society organizations (CSOs) is that perhaps a redirection of funding for certain initiatives can assist. Take for example The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, an award by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to African heads of state or government who “deliver security, health, education and economic development to their constituents, and who democratically transfer power to their successor.” (Wikipedia)
This prize includes a 5 million USD initial payment and 200,000 USD each year for life and is believed to be the world’s largest, exceeding the 1.3 million USD Nobel peace prize. Yet since its inception only 3 African heads of state have received this award and none since 2011.
Firstly, this lack of awardees is telling of the dearth in good governance among Heads of State on the continent. Secondly, most African heads of state themselves are extremely wealthy; it’s really easy for them not to find the award any sort of incentive to leave power anyway!
The suggestion then is that the Mo Ibrahim foundation should re-direct the prize funds to the civil society or to the African Union and support endeavors by these institutions to promote peace and security, justice, human rights and economic and cultural development.
As a continent, we cannot look forward to the future while still expecting foreign funds to sustain us and yet at the same time impetuously claiming that we are sovereign and thus free from colonialism. It is a hypocritical stance and one that is telling of our own lack of commitment to Africa and its people. It is certainly up to us to seek an economic and financially viable and sustainable solution to this; and to commit ourselves to funding our own governments and the African Union so that we can stabilize.